Hi, friends. Since Halloween is tomorrow, today’s classic novel depicts an eerie tale of magic and horror. The story is dark yet entertaining, outrageous, and even deviant.
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
The novel (published in 1890) opens with a conversation between two friends, Lord Henry Wotton and Basil Hallward. The two men discuss the beautiful portrait Basil has been painting of his young friend, Dorian Gray. The conversation foreshadows the dark direction of the book as Basil says that people with physical or intellectual distinction usually wind up suffering terribly.
We soon meet Dorian, who is handsome, vain, and fickle. When he sees the finished portrait, he laments that he cannot look that way forever and wishes the portrait would age instead of himself. Thus, the premise of the story is born. He grows closer to Lord Henry and becomes a greedy, cruel person, building a terrible reputation over the years. Between his lifestyle and the passage of time, his portrait bears a hideous image of his real self while he never changes.
The question becomes, how will this be rectified? What’s going to happen to Dorian and the portrait? You’ll have to read the book to find out!
The story is certainly entertaining, but the endless quotables and thought-provoking statements in this novel enrapture me. The writing is superb. [I don’t always agree with what is said, but it is always intriguing.]
The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.
Experience is merely the name men give to their mistakes.
Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.
Words! Mere words! How terrible they were! How clear, and vivid, and cruel! One could not escape from them. And yet what a subtle magic there was in them! They seemed to be able to give a plastic form to formless things, and to have a music of their own as sweet as that of viol or of lute. Mere words! Was there anything so real as words?
Three versions of this novel exist: the one published in the July 1890 edition of Lipincott’s Monthly Magazine (the original publication which the editor changed without Wilde’s approval), the uncensored version Wilde originally sent them, and a longer edition from 1891 with a preface by Wilde justifying art for art’s sake.
The novel was received critically for being hedonistic and homoerotic.
This is the only novel written by Wilde, who is most famous for his play The Importance of Being Earnest.
When he was sentenced to two years of hard labor in prison for “gross indecency” with men, Wilde’s prosecutors used the novel as evidence of his deviance. [His preface defending art for art’s sake is very relevant in this context.]
The novel has been adapted to film multiple times. A movie version from 1945 holds a 91% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Thanks for reading! Have you read this book or other Wilde works?